A person’s passion can be seen in his/her eyes, lighting up as they speak about it. Despite running around all day meeting prospective retail partners, his weariness appeared to evaporate as he spoke animatedly about the cause he has always been passionate about. Zillafer Muaffer or rather ‘Zilla’ as he used to be called by his friend, the late Sarath Sathiamoorthy are the founders of a very innovative concept. ‘Water with a Difference’ is their brainchild, a bottled water branding project which raises funds towards various good causes. First of its kind in Sri Lanka, the project aims to facilitate a better way of life for those in need in our society to lend a helping hand to eradicate poverty in a small way that they can, making difference in the most disadvantaged parts of the country. Zilla who is currently living in the UK visits Sri Lanka often to work on the project and meet prospective businesses which would like to join hands with them. He tirelessly visits hundreds of businesses to promote the project he is so passionate about.
A graduate in Business Studies, Zilla and Sarath’s friendship began when they met while they worked in London, and later became business partners. “Going into business together, Sarath and I wanted to introduce a social project that has good mileage, and we realized there is no single platform or a funding mechanism in Sri Lanka,” he says, explaining their reasons to begin such a project. Going by charities in other countries they wanted to create such a platform in Sri Lanka to help out various causes.
Their pick of water as a product for sale came after much research where it showed that the bottled water industry is a million rupee business in Sri Lanka, making them feel it is the perfect product to spread their message. Importantly like any other premium bottled water out in the market the water is sourced, filtered and bottled to industrial standards.
‘Water with a Difference’ took its first steps at Coco Veranda, a well-established restaurant in Colombo. “They had a good clientele who were capable of understanding the ethos of our project and about giving back to society,” Zilla says stating the first sell gave the project a good start. Currently bottles of water with the brand ‘Water with a Difference’ are sold at various locations in Colombo, Galle and Kandy, but their long- term aim is to make it available island wide.
Gradually evolving, the group donates all its profits to charities that are responsible and committed towards making a positive and a long-term impact on the community. Zilla stressed they take accountability in maintaining transparency with the contributions they make to the projects they support. The amount the Charity retains from each bottle goes into covering all the direct costs of bottling and overhead of the operation.
And perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the project is ‘Snuggle’ what is somewhat of a mascot of the project. Evolved from a drawing by a street artist in London which was done according to an idea by Zilla, Snuggle the soft toy mascot promotes the project at events. Interestingly Snuggle is made out of recycled plastic. “We understand all concerns relating to plastic bottles and its environmental impact, we want Water with a difference to be Different, so we want it to be a educational vehicle not just a polluter of plastic bottles”, says Zilla. The idea behind Snuggle is to show that even plastic can be recycled and used to create various synthetic products which can be used to make different items like clothing, toys, etc. Zillla has future plans to make Snuggle an animated character and produce short cartoons in order to educate children about various causes. He even displays a t-shirt which was made from similarly recycled plastic. “Such products can be made here right in Sri Lanka; these were in fact made in a factory right here in Sri Lanka,” he explains. He also would like to introduce new industries to Sri Lanka and show by-products of plastic can be used for various industries.
Asked as to why they don’t use glass bottles Zilla had this to say. “Glass bottles are good, but not economical for a start up and we want to keep our cost low to make the purchase of a bottle of Water with a Difference more affordable to generate funds for the needed so that the project can grow and we could contribute more. But we will convert consumers to use sustainable material as time comes.”
In seven months of operation, the group has been able to raise more than Rs 200,000. They have been able to donate the funds to build wells in arid villages, education and other charities such as Foundation of Goodness, Educate Sri Lanka and the cancer hospital. Zilla says they are willing to give to other causes and charities, and any charities can apply to them and present their proposal which will be considered.
Currently, the team consists of Zilla and his friend Gail. “When I was first introduced to ‘water with a difference’ by Sarath and Zilla I was immediately inspired by the enthusiasm and passion they shared towards the project. Now being given the chance to be a part of this team I consider myself privileged and with an opportunity to prove myself with a worthy cause,” She says.
Zilla says the project is for Sri Lanka. “This is for you, whether you are a charity, corporate, individual, restaurant, agent, supermarket, and school or event organizer. There are many ways you could get involved and benefit from this initiative,” so he invites you to join them in their journey to make a long- term difference in our society.
Read more about their initiative by visiting www.waterwithadifference.com or their Facebook page www.facebook.com/WaterWithADifference